The baseball team - profiled last week as they kicked off a road sweep of the Tar Heels - has lifted themselves off the NCAA bubble and is looking at a probable 2 seed in the tourney. They're just about out of contention in the ACC tournament after a bullpen meltdown against Miami - to get to the final they'll need to win out and hope Miami loses out - but even getting where they are now has been a pretty gutty performance. Especially Tuesday, when they mercy-ruled Georgia Tech right out of Durham.
Sign of a healthy program. (Figuratively speaking.) They might've not made the ACC tournament at all. Then they might've not made the pool play. Instead, over a four-game stretch, they dominated against supposedly level competition. The announcers during the UNC series couldn't stop talking about how UVA looked like a team ready for the postseason while UNC looked flat and uncompetitive.
It's a mindset, perpetuated by a coach who knows how, when, and why to push the buttons, and enabled by veterans with expectations. There will be 16 regional hosts. UVA will not be one, but one of them will be awfully chagrined to see the Hoos come to town. And that doesn't mean UVA will be the favorite to come out of whatever regional, but if someone else does, they'll feel just a little like they dodged one.
There are, of course, obstacles, starting with that aforementioned bullpen. It's thin because there are two starters laid up with injury and thus two guys who, in a four-game (or God forbid, five-game) regional, will be starting when ordinarily they wouldn't have. The best shot we have is to just go 3-0; if it stretches out against the 1 seed, we'll run out of depth before they do. But even in a down year, UVA commands respect with its play.
Contrast that to everyone's favorite facepalm inducer. Remember, the football team went 5-7 last year. That's bad, but on the surface, it's not that bad. It's not like, Duke-under-Ted-Roof levels of walking, talking incompetence. But that's what it feels like.
Normally a team with a pretty good share of upperclassmen coming off a 5-win season would be expected to improve and go bowling. But if UVA's not picked last again in the Coastal by every observer from Boston to Miami, it'll be an upset. This is a team that doesn't know how to succeed, coached by someone who just mashes the buttons randomly hoping to land a hit. As you might've learned from playing Mortal Kombat growing up, that works just often enough to have you keep trying it. Unless you're going against someone who knows what they're doing. Then it just becomes a slaughter.
This week the dysfunction came erupting to the surface when two - two! - quarterbacks announced their intention to take the hell off. One eventually stayed after a meeting with the coaches to "clear the air," or beg him to come back, or whatever. The aftermath of all this saw two incredibly sobering facts come to light. I can't take credit for either, but I repeat them here anyway:
-- 2011-2012 was the last time the UVA quarterback who started the last game of one season also started the first game of the next season. It won't happen this year, making three offseasons in a row UVA has either benched or lost its previous starter.
-- Not one quarterback recruited by Mike London has finished his career at UVA as a quarterback. Michael Strauss, Mike Rocco, David Watford, Phillip Sims, and Greyson Lambert all transferred out. Brendan Marshall and Miles Gooch switched positions. Jake McGee switched positions and transferred out.** And Corwin Cutler had to be convinced to stay.
We'll see if Matt Johns can last two more years. Nobody else left on the roster has ever thrown a college pass.
It's not really worth wasting much more time on the whole situation. I had plans for a much longer diatribe, but there's no point anymore. Either you already know Mike London is a complete drooling bungler when it comes to the subject of developing and managing quarterbacks, or you've got denial issues sort of the way Hitler insisted the war was still winnable in April 1945. Some men you just can't reach.
Cutler's about-face doesn't really fix anything. It's certainly helpful. Johns has two years, free and clear, to do something with the job, after which Cutler will be badly needed if he fends off Nick Johns and Sonny Abramson. Patience on Cutler's part gives him a chance to be The Future. Assuming any or all of them stick around, which is no guarantee. But Cutler is essentially a tool in the toolbox. For a man who needs an instruction manual for a hammer, that's not much use. Cutler stays, but so does the dysfunction, until the broom finally comes out.
**That might not be fair since he was never really recruited as a QB, but hey, while we're piling on, let's just point out that the only really good tight end London recruited did in fact transfer, which is not exactly a sign of a healthy program.